Part One - History
1979 12.5 " F/6 Model D
by John Higbee
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I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, which was a great astronomy town in the 1960’s. My seventh grade Earth Sciences teacher (the finest teacher I’ve ever known) got me and several of my classmates interested in astronomy, and we began exploring the sky with our Dads’ binoculars and first telescopes like Tasco’s alt-azimuth 60mm refractors, and Edmund Palomar Junior 4.25” reflectors. We also spent many happy nights at the brand-new McDonnell Planetarium, eventually becoming telescope operators for public sky viewings on the Planetarium’s observation deck, using the three 8” Cassegrains mounted there. Through high school, five of us spent many weekend nights in the “semi-dark” skies of St. Louis’ outer suburbs, working through Norton’s Star Atlas and Webb’s Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes, with our flagship scope – a brand new Dynascope RV-6. Then…high school graduation, and we went our separate ways…
I was able to maintain my astronomy connection through college, majoring in physics at the Naval Academy, and in my last two years there, running the Naval Academy Observatory, which was outfitted with a 16” Cassegrain. As a junior officer in 1976, I spent a large chunk of my salary on a new Celestron C8 “Orange Tube”, which I still have and use…
Now, fast forward thirty-six years…it’s 2009, and my wife (Carol) and I live in Northern Virginia, where we settled after my retirement from the Navy in 2002. I was a nuclear submariner while on active duty, so between the amounts of time I spent underwater at sea, and living in port cities with poor skies when ashore, I lost the astronomy habit. We had just bought a piece of land in rural Virginia. The first night we spent there was clear and moonless. I walked out of the house that night, and walked back into love of astronomy…the Milky Way was sharp and distinct, and the skies looked like the ones projected by McDonnell – so many stars! (After the fact, I found that we had bought (by dumb luck) in one of Virginia’s few sky brightness “blue zones”.)
The C8 and the Palomar Junior came out of storage quickly, and were joined in 2010 by a pair of Zhumell 25x100mm binoculars (using those binoculars on the summer Milky Way in those skies is a spectacular experience), and I joined the Cloudy Nights community. The more I observed, though, the more I knew that I wanted to build an observatory…and I wanted a bigger telescope (aperture fever had struck!). I originally looked at getting a C14 “Orange Tube”…but there were very few of those on the market, and the newer large SCTs were well out of my price range. Then…
I remembered the beautiful, high-end Newtonians I had pored over in Sky and Telescope advertisements during the ‘60s…particularly the Cave Optical Company products. I knew they had gone out of business in the ‘80s, but started looking in the Astromart and Cloudy Nights classifieds for their telescopes. There were some…but not many. Then, in the summer of 2012, Cave #793839 came along!
Cave Astrola 12.5” F/6 #793839, a Model D Transportable Newtonian, was born on March 27th, 1979, the day its mirror was etched in Long Beach, CA. The mirror measured in at a focal length of 75 1/8 inches. Tom Cave had entered the hospital earlier that month with the serious illness that would ultimately give the deathblow to Cave Optical.
Details of the first twenty years of this telescope’s history are unknown. What we do know begins with an Astromart classified dating from 2010, offering #793839, “emerging from 12 years of storage” and “newly refurbished, rewired and repainted”, for pickup at NEAF 2010. CN member Stan Lopata purchased the scope and relocated it to his home in upstate New York. Stan’s comment is that this scope is a “handsome monster”, but really needs to be in its own observatory to be properly used. Ultimately, Stan put it up for sale on CN during the summer of 2012.
The combination of a classic Model D Transportable and a reasonable price was too good to pass up. After consulting Dan (CN’s Datapanic) and getting some very good advice, I committed to buy and, after a beautiful late summer road trip from DC to upstate New York, Carol and I brought our Cave back to Alexandria. Here’s a picture of the Cave newly assembled…my son put this picture on his Facebook page with the caption, “Dad just bought the Hubble”…and created a minor sensation!